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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hydrant fee study cost uncertain

Friday, December 7, 2012

No estimates have been made as to how much an independent analysis of Shelbyville's fire hydrant fees will cost.

City officials and the municipal utility system have been at odds over the last several months about a monthly fee of $10.30 for each fire hydrant in the city. With 1,123 functioning hydrants billed each month, it would mean that the city would pay $138,803 annually to the water system.

City manager Jay Johnson told the council Tuesday that councilmen Jamie Williams inquired about the possibility of the city having another meeting on the staff level to review the situation with the fees.

But utility general manager David Crowell told Johnson in an e-mail that he felt that it was best to move on and have the review, which will come before the council at the appropriate time.

Johnson said until he gets better information, he didn't want to give numbers to the council on the survey's cost that were too high or too low.

No "power play"

In discussions between the city and utility, the two groups have determined they will share the costs of the survey, and the city will be involved in selecting the consultant.

Johnson told the council that one of the responsibilities he takes "very seriously" is the management of public funds, saying that when he looked at the city budget for the first time, the hydrant line item "really jumped out at me." He repeated his claim that the city is paying the highest fee in middle Tennessee.

"This is not about Jay Johnson ... or David Crowell," the city manager said. "It's not a power play between the city and power system ... it's about money."

County issue

Johnson also addressed the question about the city hydrants outside the Shelbyville municipal limits, saying how the county fire department operates is not the issue.

"A fire hydrant is a fire hydrant on the Shelbyville water system," he said.

The city manager had inquired in October why fees for hydrants outside Shelbyville municipal limits have never been levied against the county fire department.

County fire chief Mark Thomas told the T-G last week that the water they use is pumped from the Bedford County Utility District, and then hauled by truck to wherever it is needed, and they don't use city water for fighting fires.

"There is no difference between a hydrant on Blue Ribbon Parkway than there is a fire hydrant on Riverbend Drive in terms of operational procedures from the water system," Johnson said, saying he believes there is an issue when one jurisdiction pays the fee and the other does not.

Johnson reiterated that this was a money and policy issue, "with no hidden agendas, it's about how do we make the best use of the taxpayer's money." He noted the council spent one entire budget meeting in May just to decide on donations to non-profit organizations, yet are still paying the highest fees in the state for the hydrants.

Fee history

While other cities in Tennessee may have lower hydrant fees, or pay no fees at all, Crowell has explained that a private act made their utility system separate from Shelbyville, which isn't the case in many other towns across the state.

The utility's charter contains no reference to fire protection for the water system due to the "unique Charter relationship between Shelbyville Power System and the City," which is the basis for the fee, Crowell has stated.

The city appoints the power board, and then that group sets utility rates. The private act says that the utility is to charge the city "for services rendered.

Many of the municipalities Johnson surveyed earlier this year have water and sewer systems that operate directly under city councils.

The hydrant fee has been charged to the city of Shelbyville since the 1940s, "ever since there has been a water system," Crowell said last week, and noted that the current rate of $10.30 per hydrant came into effect at the first of 2010.